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Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form Hardcover – October 9, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
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Helen Vendler has entirely consumed William Butler Yeats...As she leads us by the hand through some of the best-known poems in the English language, we discover how little we knew about them after all, and how hard the poet worked to make them sound...inevitable. Our Secret Discipline is so much an intellectual feast. (John Leonard Harper's 2007-12-01)
Vendler can be as charming a tour guide through Yeats as she is a learned one. And her frame of examining Yeats's external and internal lyric structures offers a new, insightful, and often revelatory map of Yeatsian terrain. (Tess Taylor Barnes and Noble Review 2007-12-03)
Is there any critic more thorough than Helen Vendler?... Her carefulness, her attention to minutiae, is a rare quality, particularly when set against the current mores of poetry criticism, which, for all its highly technical vocabulary, has been for many years an enterprise largely impressionistic...Any serious reader of English poetry should be delighted that, in Our Secret Discipline, she has turned her attention to the question of form in W.B. Yeats's poetry. (Sam Munson New York Sun 2007-12-12)
A book whose value may exceed anything [Vendler] has hitherto produced. It is the first exhaustive account of Yeats's lyric styles as they revealed themselves in 50 years of verse forms as "the necessary and skilled embodiment of the poet's moral urgency." Vendler is the ideal close reader and listener to undertake the very large task of coming to terms with Yeats's poetry...The great merit of Vendler's approach is that she never rests content with merely identifying and describing Yeats's formal choices but goes on to consider how such forms are employed in the service of moral and human content...She is intrepid and only occasionally over-ingenious...Readers who have assumed they were familiar, even intimate, with his body of lyric verse will read Vendler's pages and find their eyes have been opened, in Hart Crane's words, to "new thresholds, new anatomies." (William H. Pritchard Boston Globe 2008-02-17)
[A] superb study of Yeats's uses of lyric form...Vendler offers much astute description of the architecture of Yeats's poems, but also considers the way in which his forms reflected his cultural vision...It certainly helps enormously to have a critic as expert as Vendler describe in slow motion, frame by frame, so to speak, her understanding of the effects of each choice the poet makes. Her shrewd, tightly focused commentaries encourage us to take each poem slowly, on its own terms, and to pay attention in particular to tbe ways in which it either conforms to or confounds the expectations it fosters...Vendler's study of his uses of lyric form is an indispensable guide to anyone interested in the means whereby Yeats transfigured into "masterful images" the random contingencies of life. (Mark Ford New York Review of Books 2008-04-03)
[Vendler's] chapters on Yeats's "Byzantium" lyrics, his courtly ottava rima poems and his blank verse are all filled with sensitive, compelling insights that will be critical guideposts for years to come. (Anthony Cuda Washington Post Book World 2008-04-20)
Top Customer Reviews
Dense? Yes. Intimidating? That, too. But comprehensive, based on evidence, insightful, and ultimately illuminating? Very much so. Vendler is scientific and logical -- one might even say, endowed with a good dollop of common sense. She doesn't intuit a claim and force evidence to prove it; she appraises the data -- i.e. the most obvious elements of a poem, its stylistic characteristics -- and tries to explain, why? and answer, what does it do? Sometimes, the analysis and conclusion will be more convincing than others, but the efforts are never less than impressive. This is as much a book revealing the depth of Yeats's art as it is a revelation of the possibilities of lyric form and a reminder to contemporary poets that there's an amazing and often overlooked arsenal available in rhyme, meter, and other elements of poetic style.
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
It's always nice to meet someone who loves those lines as much as you do. She was less successful with another favorite, "The Double Vision of Michael Robartes," a clear presentation of the anima archetype. She might benefit from reading James Olney's "The Rhizome and the Flower," which doesn't address "Robartes" directly but does tie Yeats to Jung and the pre-Socratics.
Although she likes to speak "ex cathedra," Vendler is not infallible. I once had the distinct displeasure of hearing her compare A. R. Ammons to Keats, Wordsworth, and Thomas Gray. I haven't forgiven her yet.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Yeats' poetry sings and on tune; what Vendler does to its beauty is shameful. Her criticism reads like a math text; she doesn't seem to understand "Do no harm. Read morePublished 15 months ago by MabelDodge
An excellent, readable discussion of Yeats' experimentation with verse forms and his use of metrical techniques. Read morePublished 22 months ago by William Dohmen
Helen Vendler's 2007 collection of essays on Yeats are indispensable for anyone wishing a deeper appreciation of the great poet's craft; Ms. Read morePublished on December 9, 2012 by jose carrillo